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Few good men in South Africa? Not if you look

By Kate Dunn Special to The Christian Science Monitor / September 25, 2000



CAPE TOWN

A good man, it is said, is hard to find. But in South Africa, Charles Maisel has turned up 50,000.

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That's the number of people nominated for Mr. Maisel's 'Everyday Hero' campaign established to ferret out the best fathers, uncles, brothers, grandfathers, stepfathers, and male friends in the country. It is one facet of a program that's engaging men in the fight against domestic violence and rape - in a nation that has one of the highest incidents of such crimes in the world.

Computer printouts of the 50,000 names papered the walls of St. Mary's Cathedral in downtown Cape Town yesterday, where a special mass was held to celebrate the heroes. Dozens of hand-written nomination letters from children cover the church pillars.

"My father is strict but gentle as a lamb," wrote Naadiya Moosajee of her father, Ismail Moosajee. "Next to President Mandela, my grandfather is my Everyday Hero," said Mishkah Rinquest. And Jacqui Nicole Sauls nominated her teenage brother,

Jaim: "He is much older than most of the grown men I know ... older in every sense of the following words: older in love, peace, and most of all, understanding."

There are uncles who have taken in orphaned nieces and male students who encourage and respect their female campus pals. There is a big brother who stopped a bully from hitting his little sister - and further amazed her by treating his girlfriend with respect. There are best friends' fathers who lead by their example of giving food and friendship to the poor, and one incredible dad who supports the widows and children of two murdered neighbors.

Interestingly for a campaign organized by Cape Town's Catholic Welfare and Development (CWD) agency, at least a third of the letters are from Muslims.

The campaign, although national, began in Cape Town, and many letters reflect life in the more deprived parts of the city: gangsters prevail, rape and murder are ever-present threats, and unemployment has risen among those who expected life to improve with the end of apartheid. Discouragement being a corrosive factor in so many families, a significant number of Everyday Hero fathers were nominated just for sticking around and doing the basics.

"Getting up every morning and going to work just to put food on the table sounds simple but not many people are able to do that and I admire him for not giving up hope when things get a bit bumpy," wrote Alia Limbada of her father, Mohomad Limbada.

The violence in South Africa is as prevalent in homes as it is in the streets. For example, the rape rate is four times greater than in the US. "One in 6 men abuses their women and/or their children," says Maisel, adding with emphasis, "Which means that 5 in 6 do not." From that statistic was born Maisel's "5 in 6" program, his main focus as a community worker.

"Men are the perpetrators of most domestic violence and certainly of rape but both men and women tend to see these as women's issues. When you call a meeting of men to address domestic violence, 80 percent of those who turn up will be women," says Maisel. After eight years of trial and error Maisel has discovered that if he calls men together to discuss "community problems" rather than "domestic violence," he'll get a sizable male turnout.